A little over a year ago I decided that I needed to do a triathlon, a goal that had always floated in the back of mind ever since I got that Timex “Ironman” watch as a kid, but it seemed that some major life event always got in the way.  As I get a little older and begin to feel the clock catching up to me, I seem to be seeking out ways to convince myself that I’m still in my prime.  Now as a thirty something with a wife and kids, the timing has finally worked out. I found the first triathlon of the season for my area and signed up – the wheels were in motion.  I’ve never considered myself an athlete so I expected some challenges, but little did I know or imagine the pain, drama, comedy, and life lessons that would accompany my new found passion.  Looking back, I now see that I learned some important lessons during that first triathlon.

    The day finally arrives, so we pack up the car (the essentials – bike, tool kit, and peanut butter) and start the long trip to the coastal marine base where the event will be held.  It stormed the whole way down, but my bike was in the back of the SUV (safe, snug, and dry, as it should be), and my wife was keeping me fortified with a steady supply of “health” snacks and water, so all was still good.  We check into the motel, pick up my packet at the base, check out the course, and then take in some local seafood and pasta – the perfect pre-race- until…

      The simplest task.  Insert the seat post, and tighten the clamp.  My bike is big, but in order to fit it into the back of the SUV I still only had to remove the seat post and the front wheel.  We’re not talking a major mechanical endeavor here.  Two pieces to remove, two to put back on, that’s all.  Since I’m very particular about my bike, and this was my first race, I did not want to take any chances.  With my tool kit and trusty torque wrench in hand (if I could figure out how to tighten my shoelaces with a torque wrench I probably would) I proceed to slowly tighten the bolt which prevents the seat post from sliding down into the seat tube.

      One turn, one and a half, KA-PING!!!  We duck for cover.  Are we being shot at???  Snipers on the roof?!?!  I wish.  Unfortunately, what we heard was the sound of my seat post’s binder bolt snapping in two and ricocheting off the wall.  Being the optimist I am, I quickly and calmly conclude that all is lost, my work has been in vain, and I might as well pack it in.  Thankfully, my wife is a little more level headed in a crisis.  It’s after 7:00 and no bike shops are open, so we jump in the car for the nearest Lowes.  It’s amazing, but most home improvement warehouse employees are not incredibly well versed in the minutia of bicycle components and obscure metric bolt sizes.  Finally, after about 4 hours on the road and two big box stores later, we find a metric bolt that looks like it will do the trick.  Back in the hotel with only a few hours of sleep ahead of us, we drift into oblivion.

      If only that were the end of it, but OH NO, the seat post was only the beginning.  After downing my peanut butter bagel (peanut butter being, despite its fat content, one of the few perfect foods J) I’m pumped and excited again, ready for my 500 meter swim.  I’ve had a little coaching, so I’m feeling pretty confident.  The combat training pool we are swimming in is nice and warm, and after swimming some warm-up laps, I can hardly stand still waiting for my turn to start.  This is going to be a phenomenal swim.  Then it comes… How…why… I guess I may never know.  One of my leg seizes in a cramp.  15 seconds to my start time, stretch it out!  The leg seizes again – stretch! 5 seconds – go!  What followed was 500 meters of pure agony.  Before that day I couldn’t have said whether or not it was possible for me to swim with just one leg, now I know it is (just not very quickly in my case).  After what seemed like an eternity I emerged from the pool and hobbled to the transition area.  My wife could see I was in pain and kept cheering me on (look up “support” in the dictionary, you’ll see her picture). “You’ll make it up on the bike! Pick it up on the bike! It’s amazing the impact a few words can have.  Funny thing is, I did pick it up on the bike.  The cramp worked itself out, and the run (for a non-runner) was not too bad either.  My wife was there (all smiles) at the finish line to greet me, the conquering hero. I was pretty sore for the rest of that week but it was worth it, I had attained my goal, I had completed my first triathlon.  Now I fear I’m becoming an addict J.

      Perseverance is a funny thing.  I’ve heard it said that we often hope perseverance will lead to victory.  I would love to say that I placed at the top of my category, but this is not a work of fiction, and I definitely did not win in the sense of crossing the finish line first.  Still, I felt victorious.  I’ve also heard it said that perseverance IS victory, and I believe there is truth in that.  The apostle Paul wrote to the church in Rome, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.  Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;  perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. (Rom 5:1-5 NIV)

        In my first triathlon I could easily have declared myself a victim of circumstance, given up, gone home, and never experienced what was waiting for me at the finish line.  I may have even given up on triathlon all together.  Isn’t that just like life?  Trials are moments of decision.  There is certainly real suffering in the Christian life, but our suffering does not have to be meaningless, nor does it have to defeat us.  Just as the “suffering” we endure in training yields positive results on race day, so in God’s hands, those things we suffer in the Christian life can also be used to refine us and make us more like Christ.  They can teach the child of God to press on as we experience his faithfulness to us in the hard times, and galvanize the hope we have in Christ, his love and power, and the future he has secured for those who belong to him.  Now, we know that we are not supposed to bring suffering on ourselves, such as through wrong actions or immoral behavior, but the reality is that sometimes in life, often through no fault of our own, we will suffer.  We may suffer for a stand we have taken, we may suffer for an unwillingness to compromise our principles, or we may suffer simply because we live in a world scarred by sin.  The bottom line is, we will suffer.  Jesus himself suffered, and those who claim to follow him should expect no less.  How we handle it is up to us. I’ve thought about the options, and I plan to press on and see the finish line.  I also plan on eating a lot of peanut butter between now and then.